The Wall Street Journal has shared the results of an eye-opening investigation on how apps share personal data. Since the success of the App Store, apps have become the backbone of what makes or breaks a successful, mobile device.
The Journal looked into how some apps (both iOS and Android) actually behave with your phone’s information, and examined the personal data that most don’t know is shared through apps. The results were a little disturbing…
Apparently, your apps are not that good at keeping secrets. The Journal says,
Although the Journal’s study was somewhat restricted, they did find informative conclusions.
If you think about it, your smartphone knows more about you than any other device or service could have known in the past. Your current location, phone numbers, real name, interests, demographic information- even a unique ID number that is unchangeable and permanently attached to your device.
The Journal’s investigation into how apps are sharing personal data reveals the truly intrusive nature of the mobile business. While companies like Apple are insistent that they take privacy very seriously, apps are sending personal information to ad agencies right under our noses,
Many people use Pandora for music streaming. Were you aware that your demographic information was being sent to multiple ad networks through the app?
What was surprising about the Journal’s findings was that iOS apps share the most data. I would have assumed that the open-source nature of the Android Market would be more susceptible to undercover data mining.
Information that was almost as surprising was that apps that would seem to need the smallest amount of user data actually collect the most.
TextPlus 4, a popular iOS app for free text messaging, sent the iPhone’s UDID (a unique, traceable identifier for every iOS device) to eight ad companies and sent the user’s age and gender to two companies.
Knowing personal data, like location, can be helpful for apps to be effective at their job. Location-based apps like foursquare function by being able to use the user’s location for check-ins. What is disturbing about the Journal’s findings is that there are plenty of apps out there that aren’t upfront about the information they are sending along to ad companies.
The simplest example of this fact can be shown by asking yourself a question. Did you know there’s a good chance that multiple ad agencies know just about everything about you (including your location) through the apps you download?
It’s a pretty safe bet that most end-users don’t realize the true amount of personal data that they are inadvertently giving to apps, and in turn, mobile advertising companies.
On that same token, there does need to be a degree of fairness shown. Targeted ads are the way that the mobile and web industry makes money, and app developers are simply following the money trail. Who could blame them?
Why charge for your app when you could give it away with ads, then sell the user’s information to mobile ad agencies for incredible amounts of money? You would get more downloads of your app and more revenue from paying ad distributors.
The real problem with this issue is communication. Specifically, app developers not communicating with their users. The Journal says,
Ever since smartphones started having built-in GPS, user privacy has been a big issue. With all of the personal information that is stored on our iPhones nowadays, the caution needs to be even greater.